It seems like it should be easy to find a babysitter online. Don’t you just create an account, search for a sitter, and do an interview? Well, yes — and no. The practical steps to finding a babysitter online are simple, but that doesn’t mean hiring a trustworthy, dependable caregiver for your kids is easy.
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Directory sites like Care.com and SitterCity.com have made it really easy to connect with babysitters and nannies. You simply provide your location and answer some questions about your family, the services you need, and the qualities you are looking for in a caregiver. Like magic, a list of dozens of people pops up. That’s when the real work begins.
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That’s because the real challenges to finding a babysitter are the same, no matter what method you use. Technology deserves a lot of credit for simplifying the search process. Hooray for fewer awkward conversations with friends who think you are trying to steal their babysitter! Cheers to sipping a glass of wine while you peruse potential matches! Thank goodness for the ability to send messages after business hours, when the kids are finally asleep!
But that’s only the first step. You are still responsible for vetting and hiring someone you can trust to care for the most important people in your life: your kids. Here are five tactics that will help you do just that — and one that won’t.
Set expectations up front with your online babysitter
It’s important to figure out what you want and need in a caregiver before you begin reaching out to potential matches. Of course, there are some expectations that are non-negotiable. For example, every sitter should be trained in CPR (or willing to take classes). He or she should also be able to handle basic tasks directly related to your children, like feeding them, playing with them, and putting them to bed.
When it comes to other skills, qualifications, and responsibilities, you shouldn’t assume your sitter is on board. If you need someone to drive your kids around, do laundry, take care of pets, or tutor your child, you need to clarify that upfront. One way to do that is to put it in writing. A job description may seem formal, but babysitting is, well, a job. Plus, by laying out your requirements in advance, you can weed out candidates who don’t fit more easily. As an added bonus, once you’ve listed your expectations, you can post them online so sitters can come to you.
Keep an Open Mind
You probably have an image of who your perfect sitter will be. It might be a male or a female, someone older and experienced, or someone young and fresh. As you search, don’t let that ideal image prevent you from connecting with other good candidates. Keep your eyes and mind open to everyone who fits the job description. You never know who might be a good fit for your family.
Instead of focusing on age or gender, try to picture your ideal candidate’s personality. Does your hyperactive child need someone to run and play with him? Does your shy child need someone to coax her out of her shell? Does your family have some quirky bedtime routines that involve singing and dancing? In the end, your child will connect with someone based on how playful, outgoing, understanding, or energetic they are, so it makes sense to prioritize those traits.
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Research your Babysitter Online
Whether you are talking to one applicant or a dozen, it’s imperative you take the time to thoroughly vet each and every person. That means searching social media, verifying employment, checking references, and asking tough questions about drug and alcohol use, disciplinary actions, and past work experiences. It will be uncomfortable, but just remember — when it comes to the safety and well-being of your child, it’s worth it.
Of course, there are some things you aren’t allowed to ask about. According to Rocket Lawyer, you have to get consent to run a background check. (Many online babysitting directories take care of this step for you.) Though your babysitter may offer information freely, federal law prohibits you from asking about the following topics:
- Age (you may ask if they’re old enough to work legally)
- Country of birth (although you can ask if they can work legally in the US)
- Race or ethnicity
- Marital status
- Disability status
- If they’re pregnant or planning to be anytime soon
Meet Them in Person if You’re Worried!
For the candidates who meet your strict standards, you should arrange an in-person meeting. Like a job interview, this will give you the opportunity to follow up on any questions you might have about his or her experience. It’s also a great time to ask your prospective caregiver how he or she would react to hypothetical scenarios. This will give you a good idea of how the person might respond to emergencies, situations that require discipline, and the everyday stressors that come along with caring for children.
Start by meeting the candidate outside the home, without your children. A coffee shop, the library, or a local park will work nicely. Then, if that goes well, invite your prospective sitter to your home to meet your kids. Treat it as a trial babysitting session, and offer to pay the person for his or her time. Stay close by, but try not to interfere. Pay close attention to how your children act around the sitter, and always ask their opinion of how it went after he or she leaves.
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Use your Paternal Instincts
Some call it instinct, some call it your Spidey sense, and others a mother’s intuition. Even if everything checked out on paper and in person, your gut can tell you if something’s off with the person you’re thinking of hiring. Alternatively, you could get a feeling that something’s just right. Whatever you call this urge — and whatever feeling you’re getting — trust it.
This is even (especially!) important after you’ve already hired your caregiver and/or have been working with him or her for some time. Red flags include a lack of communication, ignoring your instructions, and a child who doesn’t want to stay with the babysitter alone. Though you likely committed a lot of time and energy to finding your sitter, you shouldn’t hesitate to start over to protect your child and give yourself peace of mind.
Don’t Give up on Online Babysitting too Soon
Parents who’ve done it will tell you that finding a babysitter online is a lot like internet dating. You’re sending messages based on profiles with less-than-comprehensive information about a person. You’re surfing through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. You’re basing a lot of what they will be like as a babysitter based on irrelevant information, like how well they spell or whether they took the time to upload a photo. And, like internet dating, it can take time to find “the one.”
The truth is that you will probably have to endure several unreturned messages, a few bad interviews, and even a bad hire before you meet your babysitting match. With a little patience, a lot of preparation, and the undying hope that your perfect babysitter is out there, you will prevail. Just don’t forget to set reasonable expectations, to take your time getting to know the candidates, and to trust your instincts.